Associations of Housing Mobility Interventions for Children in High-Poverty Neighborhoods With Subsequent Mental Disorders During Adolescence
Duncan, Greg J.
Gennetian, Lisa A.
Kling, Jeffrey R.
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CitationKessler, Ronald C., Greg J. Duncan, Lisa A. Gennetian, Lawrence F. Katz, Jeffrey R. Kling, Nancy A. Sampson, Lisa Sanbonmatsu, Alan M. Zaslavsky, and Jens Ludwig. 2014. “Associations of Housing Mobility Interventions for Children in High-Poverty Neighborhoods With Subsequent Mental Disorders During Adolescence.” JAMA 311 (9) (March 5): 937. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.607.
AbstractImportance Youth in high-poverty neighborhoods have high rates of emotional problems. Understanding neighborhood influences on mental health is crucial for designing neighborhood-level interventions.
Objective To perform an exploratory analysis of associations between housing mobility interventions for children in high-poverty neighborhoods and subsequent mental disorders during adolescence.
Design, Setting, and Participants The Moving to Opportunity Demonstration from 1994 to 1998 randomized 4604 volunteer public housing families with 3689 children in high-poverty neighborhoods into 1 of 2 housing mobility intervention groups (a low-poverty voucher group vs a traditional voucher group) or a control group. The low-poverty voucher group (n=1430) received vouchers to move to low-poverty neighborhoods with enhanced mobility counseling. The traditional voucher group (n=1081) received geographically unrestricted vouchers. Controls (n=1178) received no intervention. Follow-up evaluation was performed 10 to 15 years later (June 2008-April 2010) with participants aged 13 to 19 years (0-8 years at randomization). Response rates were 86.9% to 92.9%.
Main Outcomes and Measures Presence of mental disorders from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition) within the past 12 months, including major depressive disorder, panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), oppositional-defiant disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, and conduct disorder, as assessed post hoc with a validated diagnostic interview.
Results Of the 3689 adolescents randomized, 2872 were interviewed (1407 boys and 1465 girls). Compared with the control group, boys in the low-poverty voucher group had significantly increased rates of major depression (7.1% vs 3.5%; odds ratio (OR), 2.2 [95% CI, 1.2-3.9]), PTSD (6.2% vs 1.9%; OR, 3.4 [95% CI, 1.6-7.4]), and conduct disorder (6.4% vs 2.1%; OR, 3.1 [95% CI, 1.7-5.8]). Boys in the traditional voucher group had increased rates of PTSD compared with the control group (4.9% vs 1.9%, OR, 2.7 [95% CI, 1.2-5.8]). However, compared with the control group, girls in the traditional voucher group had decreased rates of major depression (6.5% vs 10.9%; OR, 0.6 [95% CI, 0.3-0.9]) and conduct disorder (0.3% vs 2.9%; OR, 0.1 [95% CI, 0.0-0.4]).
Conclusions and Relevance Interventions to encourage moving out of high-poverty neighborhoods were associated with increased rates of depression, PTSD, and conduct disorder among boys and reduced rates of depression and conduct disorder among girls. Better understanding of interactions among individual, family, and neighborhood risk factors is needed to guide future public housing policy changes.
Observational studies have consistently found that youth in high-poverty neighborhoods have high rates of emotional problems even after controlling for individual-level risk factors.1 These findings raise the possibilities that neighborhood characteristics affect emotional functioning2 and neighborhood-level interventions may reduce emotional problems. Available data from observational studies are unclear and subject to selection bias and the possibility of reverse causality (ie, families with emotional problems end up in poorer neighborhoods). Despite this uncertainty, presumptive neighborhood effects have been characterized,3 causal pathways have been hypothesized,4 and interventions have been implemented.5
It is important to evaluate these causal claims regarding neighborhood effects experimentally. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) enacted a housing mobility experiment known as the Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing Demonstration by randomizing volunteer low-income public housing families with children to receive vouchers to move to lower-poverty neighborhoods.6,7 An interim evaluation 4 to 7 years after randomization showed that the intervention caused families to move to better neighborhoods with lower poverty and crime rates and increased social ties with more affluent people.8 Significant reductions in psychological distress and depression were also found among adolescent girls in the intervention group vs the control group but increased behavior problems were found among adolescent boys in the intervention group vs the control group.9- 11 Given the importance of these sex differences, clinically significant mental disorders were included in a long-term (10-15 years after randomization) follow-up assessment. Prior long-term follow-up reports documented effects on improved neighborhood characteristics,12,13 reduced adult extreme obesity and diabetes,14 and improved adult subjective well-being.13 No detectable effects on economic self-sufficiency were found.13 Although long-term evaluation found significantly reduced psychological distress among adolescent girls,15 measures of mental disorders were not examined in previous reports.
The primary objectives of the Moving to Opportunity study were to move families to lower-poverty neighborhoods and increase educational achievement and economic self-sufficiency. Mental disorders were measured as post hoc outcomes. The current report presents the first exploratory analyses evaluating long-term associations of housing mobility randomization with mental disorders among participants who were in early childhood at randomization and adolescence at follow-up.
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